Posts tagged with okc

Why I Voted YES For MAPS 3!

December 4th, 2009


I heard an ad on the radio today explaining that a vote for MAPS 3 is a vote for: more jobs, healthy living, and public safety.  The ad was paid for by the YESforMAPS campaign, so I guess it makes sense that it seemed carefully engineered to convince people to vote yes. In the midst of a major recession, who doesn’t like more jobs. And when you live in America’s #2 Fattest City, supporting healthy living seems like a good idea.  And public safety, who could vote against public safety.*  But I didn’t like the ad.  In fact, I hated it.  Because in the midst of the calculated message they failed to focus on the primary reason people should vote yes for MAPS 3.  In fact, it is the only reason I voted yes (I voted early), and it is a major factor in me and my wife’s recent decision to move back to Oklahoma City.  That is – MAPS has improved and will continue to improve quality of life in Oklahoma City!

MAPS 3 will add streetcar transit to downtown

The original MAPS was an effort to enhance quality of life in Oklahoma City and it has been an overwhelming success.  The laundry list of development, investment, and improvements that have occurred as a result has been recounted so many times that it serves little purpose to create one more such list.  But let me sum up the impact like this: Everday my life in Oklahoma City is made better as a direct result of MAPS.  If you live or work near downtown, or enjoy attending sporting events, or own a house that has a appreciated as a result – MAPS has made your life better too.  And our improved quality of life has brought with it a new sense of community pride.  People all over the city are proud of what we have accomplished, are working each day to make our city better than the day before, and, like me, look to the future with a hope and optimism that only a few quixotic visionaries might have had 16 years ago.


MAPS3 can build upon this success and ensure that our hopes and dreams today become line items on tomorrow’s laundry list of accomplishments.  MAPS3 will – without a doubt – improve the quality of life in Oklahoma City!  MAPS3 could provide our city with a park capable of serving as a physical heart and a gathering place for the whole community, something which has been conspicuously absent since the hastily planned grids laid out 120 years ago.  And after enduring almost a half century of a over-engineered drainage ditch, and only just now beginning to appreciate the benefits of having a waterway with actual water, MAPS3 could transform the Oklahoma River into, not only an elite international rowing venue, but an incredible recreational playground for the entire city to enjoy – whether as participant or spectator.  Finally, MAPS3 could provide the beginnings of a meaningful transit system by making areas around downtown accessible sans automobile.  Hopefully the future will bring a regional system that provides broader service, but either way, a legitimate downtown transit system will be a necessary first step for making a more expansive solution possible.

That is why I am voting yes for MAPS3.  Do I like all of the projects?  No.  But this is not MAPSforBlair; MAPS is an exercise in successful community compromise and MAPS3 is the most aggressive test yet of this principle.  You might not like all of the projects either, or are perhaps insulted by the simplistic rhetoric being spewed by both sides, BUT if you believe the city should continue working to improve our quality of life, you should vote yes for MAPS3 on December 8th.

* ironically it seems the answer is – according to the radio ad – police and firemen.

MAPS 3 Looking Forward

October 26th, 2009

imagi_maps3_lookingforward_02Hopefully I have made my point on the MAPS 3 public process to date.  It is clear that what we have witnessed so far cannot possibly represent our City’s best effort at a inclusive process.  That said, the past is the past.  There is nothing that can be done before the December 8th MAPS 3 vote to rectify the situation – including more blogging on the topic.

Instead, I am looking forward.   Looking forward to a favorable result for MAPS 3 at the polls on December 8th.  Looking forward to the post-vote public meetings, and planning charettes, and lively discussions (and maybe even an open competition) focused on finding the best locations for the projects and making sure the best ideas are implemented.  If such a process takes place in the future, then we can all find the grace to forget what has taken place thus far and channel our energy into ensuring the projects are a success.

I have been told by multiple persons over the past few days, that my public objections to the MAPS 3 public process will hurt my chances of finding a job in Oklahoma City.  Well, if that is the case, it is most unfortunate.  Because more than anything, I am looking forward to returning to Oklahoma City and contributing my energy and ideas in an effort to make it a better place to live.  That was the dream two years ago when I left to attend graduate school and it remains the dream today.

OETA Core to Shore Feature3

September 25th, 2009

Just took the time to watch this OETA video on Core to Shore all the way through.  Great production with a lot of people I respect and admire – basically every voice you hear speaking.  Gets you excited about the possibilities for the future of Oklahoma City!   There are still a number of details that need to be worked out with the Core to Shore plan and some “interesting” premises that need prodding, but we can save those conversations for 2010 following the passing of MAPS3 and a lovely Christmas holiday with the family.  Enjoy!

Picture 6

Click above image to go to the OETA site to watch video.

(via lasomeday at okctalk)

What national retailers do not understand about OKC

August 29th, 2009


Just read over at OKC Central that Wholefoods is planning to open a store in Oklahoma City at the Classen Curve, the Aubrey McClendon funded retail vision of Rand Elliott. This is great news!  My wife Maggie (who is an amazing cook) has always been frustrated by the options Oklahoma City offers on things like cheeses, produce, and other specialty items.  In truth, her first choice would be Trader Joe’s – great selection and great value.  She assures me OKC people would like Trader Joe’s more too,  but either way,  a Whole Foods will certainly increase the selection available in Oklahoma City, which is definitely a good thing.

The Classen Curve

What is not a good thing in my opinion, or at least not the best thing, is the apparent location of the new store.  The Classen Curve is hidden away, comparatively poorly accessible, and does not address the need for better grocery options closer to downtown.  My guess is the people at Whole Foods have studied the situation and determined that this location is better than than anything else available, but I don’t think they fully understand our city.  One thing about OKC, that few national retailers seem to grasp, is that the city consists of a patchwork of neighborhoods with varying socioeconomic attributes. And, while there is not a conical epicenter of wealth (Nichols Hills? No, it drops off considerably in almost every direction), there are a number of higher-income nodes that are very accessible to each other, due to: minimal traffic congestion, efficient (i.e. overbuilt) roads, and ample highways. While the immediate demographic ring study may not compare favorably for an area like 10th and Broadway, the location remains very accessible to anyone working downtown, anyone living throughout the historic central city neighborhoods, and anyone as far north as downtown Edmond who wishes to shop at Whole Foods and is willing to drive approx. 15-20 minutes on Broadway Extension to get there.  A typical demographic ring study that might make a more congested and more consistently segregated city look good for retail, will not demonstrate, what is really, a collectively strong buying power available in Oklahoma City.

A study that disproves the weaknesses of Oklahoma City’s income demographics, by proving that the accessibility of buying power is favorable (even if the proximity is not), might help the City to attract similar retailers in the future and draw them to locations that make more sense.  Who knows, maybe it would even convince another grocer like, oh, say….Trader Joe’s to open a store downtown.

By the way, Napa is beautiful.  We are having a great time!…And I still very much look forward to the day we move back to Oklahoma City.

Just a comment on MAPS 3 and the Canal Extension

July 11th, 2009

This is, or at least was intended to be, just a comment on MAPS 3 and the canal extension.  In fact, it wasn’t supposed to be posted here, but was originally going to be a quick three sentence contribution to a sinuous discussion over at OKC Central.  For better or for worse,  I am really amped up about all things OKC and MAPS 3.  I actually laid awake in bed last night thinking through it all until the sun came up this morning.  Though this post started as a response to NaptownEd’s  comment below, the combination of a lot of thinking, sincere passion, and nervous enthusiasm spilled over into something much longer than intended…

NaptownEd said:

Here is an example that OKC can possibly replicate. Click on link to the Indy canal that is align with various development:

Here are a few of the pictures to give you a sense of the Indy Canal Walk that Ed is referencing:




That is a very nice canal. I like the variation in form and scale.

However, the execution of the urban fabric that borders the canal is very poor. Heavy facades, a lack of transparency on sides and entrances of buildings, concrete retaining walls, and vastly over-sized setbacks, create a place that is ill suited for an urban environment and offers very little utility for anything other than glorified recreational paths.  I think the results speak for themselves.

Indianapolis Canal

Downtown Oklahoma City’s two most glaring weaknesses are the lack of pedestrians and lack of retail storefronts. The two go hand-in-hand; you cannot sustain one without the other. The City does not manage retail stores, but it has the power and the obligation when it comes to providing a public realm that attracts pedestrians.


A canal connection is a sad substitute for a well-designed street. I don’t mean this as a rebuke of the proposed canal extension, but am, affably I hope, calling into question the process(es) and underlying logic of many proposed MAPS 3 projects.  In fact, as we move down the list you see that pedestrian concerns continue to take a back burner.  A convention center will certainly detract from the pedestrian’s experience of the Central Park.  This super-block structure will significantly damage the pedestrian realm, so it very important that it is placed accordingly.  The boulevard, as designed, will, ironically enough, actually hinder pedestrian’s ability to walk from the Core to the Shore.  Further, all boulevards, especially wide boulevards, are not well suited for retail and can can only hope to sustain retail in the very densest cities that have the ability to fill wider than average sidewalks with pedestrians.* These projects are not strategically focused on enhancing Oklahoma City’s quality of life.

But what if we wanted to strike at the heart of Downtown and Bricktown’s problems? MAPS 3 could employ a thoughtful strategy of interventions ALL intended to improve the pedestrian experience: adding streetcars, improving public spaces, planting street trees, widening sidewalks, and more.   MAPS 3  could boost both Downtown and Bricktown by increasing the number of pedestrians and unleash a number of opportunities for retail currently lying dormant within the fabric of the city.  Joining with the MAPS 3 investments, we could step up efforts to build out undeveloped and surface parking lots, which would contribute greatly to the pedestrian experience while increasing density.  Activating the city we have today with people and retail would do more to enhance the city than any project or combination of projects that has been proposed to date.

*This is due to the fact that a narrower street allows for shoppers to connect visually with stores on both sides of the street, and cross back and forth relatively quickly.  The distance and visual disconnectedness of a wide boulevard makes it necessary for stores to rely on the foot traffic supplied by only one side of the street, possible only if the sidewalks carry substantial pedestrian traffic.

Read Jeff Speck’s OKC Walkability Report

June 29th, 2009

If you haven’t already, check out Jeff Speck’s recommendations for downtown Oklahoma City. This report will be at the center of much discussion over the next few years and I think it is important for everyone interested in downtown to become familiar with the concepts – whether you agree with his recommendations or not. I have uploaded it so that you can view it online (just click below) without having to download it, or if you prefer to download it, that option is available as well.

Click here to download the report in .pdf

Why public-transit is falling off the MAPS 3 track

May 18th, 2009

Just four months ago, Mayor Mick Cornett laid out the priorities for MAPS 3 in his State of the City address.

The Mayor said:

“From a quality of life perspective, there are two high profile shortcomings, two areas that, if addressed, would dramatically further our ascension as a city where people want to live.

The first is public transportation.

The second is a centrally located, large public park.”

The third project mentioned in the speech was for a non-quality of life element: a new convention center.

But fast forward four months later and you might be wondering what has happened. The campaign for a new convention center has been ratcheted up with the “release” of a pro-convention Chamber study and a coordinated media blitz, all topped off by a carefully orchestrated Mayor’s Development Roundtable that featured multiple “experts” (i.e. industry insiders that are unapologetically bias) brought in to propagate the pro-convention message. Meanwhile, public transit has received less, and less attention.


On April 16-17, members of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce gathered in Stillwater for their annual Chamber Board Retreat. At the retreat, members of the Chamber’s board and board of advisors, along with top city hall officials, were presented a range of projects to be included in MAPS 3. It doesn’t appear that regular members of the media were invited to attend, but Leland Gourley, owner of the Friday newspaper, is a member of the Chamber board and offered this overview of the retreat in a April 24 editorial entitled, “Time to act on Maps 3.”

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber has heard presentations on a number of projects that could be included in MAPS 3.

Five of them are [numbering and bold-type added for legibility – bh]:

1. Development of the South Side of the Oklahoma River;
2. Building a new, large Convention Center;
3. Create a huge, several block downtown park;
4. Add some needed buildings at the State Fair Park; and
5. Build a new research building in the Health Sciences Center.

1. The River Plan would cost $100 million and would be for development of the South Side. The North Side already is booming with private investors building boat houses and vendor shops. It already has built a national reputation. It has become, in the view of many rowing competitors, the best rowing facility in the nation. Ivy league colleges love it. It is a mecca for boaters with more boat houses.

But we need to develop the South Side of the River with emphasis on spectators. We can build a stadium to accommodate huge crowds to watch the races. Improvements could include family-type facilities. The plan calls for a foot bridge across the river, and within a proposed $100 million budget there would be $20 million to complete the American Indian museum on a hill by the river.

2. The New Convention Center proposal would cost $400 million and would put Oklahoma City up to the next tier of convention cities. We could keep the Cox Convention Center for mid-sized conventions, and draw on a whole other growing group of major size conventions. Lots of them.

Scores of professional convention locators have visited Oklahoma City and have been overwhelmed with the wonderful attractions we have here. They WANT to come to Oklahoma City but we are way down the list in size of accommodations, meeting space and exhibit space. So they just can’t come here. Millions of dollars are lost to our OKC economy because of this. Thousands and thousands of new jobs would be created by a new, large convention center. This is a top priority need for Oklahoma City’s future growth benefitting all.

3. A new downtown park is a vital need for Oklahoma City. We do not have a huge downtown park like most progressive big cities already have. A giant park, with underground parking the same size under it would be a great draw and an A-plus for our city. Initial studies say it could be accomplished for $100 million.

4. State Fair Buildings. To stay at the top in the type of competition in which our State Fair Ground is engaged, some new, enlarged buildings, estimated to cost around $76 mil would keep us in the running for year-around events.

5. Health Center Research Building. For $24 million, we could have a facility that could attract millions of research dollars from outside.

Other projects. After the above suggested projects, $300 million would be left for others.

Wait, why isn’t public transit on this list? And where the heck did the river plan come from?

It is not a coincidence that Mr. Gourley failed to put public-transit on the list. Rick Caine, Director of the Central Oklahoma Transit and Parking Authority (COTPA), gave a presentation of COTPA’s MAPS 3 proposal at the meeting. A presentation that apparently failed to inspire the business leaders in attendance. In contrast, Mike Knopp, the “driving force behind the development of rowing” on the Oklahoma River, dazzled the audience with a presentation of ideas for redeveloping the river.

So river plan in, public-transit out.


Of course, we could have seen this coming. Knowing that public-transit was a top priority for MAPS 3, perhaps we shouldn’t have relied on the planning, leadership, and vision for the system to come from COTPA, a transit authority that specializes in parking, and has a long, long record of poor performance.

I have long suspected that COTPA would not be up to the task of overseeing the implementation public-transit for MAPS 3. On February 3, I commented at OKC Central the following:

Any idea how many of the more successful urban transportation departments are also charged with providing downtown parking? Or leasing bad retail space?

COTPA is broken – period. I can only hope that we won’t let this organization influence the planning and management of the new transit improvements that are to be included in Maps3. We need to take a step back and think about what it is going to take to have an effective transit system, focused on moving people, and doing so with excellence.

It is not all COTPA’s fault that they perform poorly. The duties they are given, along with a severe lack of funding, have set them up to fail. But fail they have and it is time to move on.

I say all of this with the full knowledge that there are
great people there, some of whom are working hard and doing a great job. Still, moving forward, we need something better than what COTPA has to offer.

Unfortunately, COTPA was chosen to oversee the MAPS 3 transportation pitch and has failed to deliver. If things continue at the current pace, then the people of Oklahoma City – who overwhelmingly supported transit in the MAPS 3 online survey – will be left with nothing more than a token gesture and unfulfilled transit dreams reminiscent of the original MAPS.


In my opinion, the focus of a MAPS 3 transit system should be to create a transit-connected downtown. The immediate need is for an streetcar network that connects to existing assets (e.g. Bricktown, CBD, hotels, ford center, etc) and emerging assets (housing, Devon, Automobile Alley, new convention center, new Central Park, etc). This downtown streetcar system would represent a first step towards a more comprehensive metro-wide system with light-rail/commuter-rail to Norman and Edmond, and an enhanced BRT bus-network servicing a broader area of the city.

Plus, in the meantime, the system would benefit people living and working in downtown, as well as visitors, by providing a “park-once” environment. Basically, the idea is that once people park their car, they are able to experience everything downtown has to offer without getting back into their car between stops.

Jeff Bezdek and Mark Gibbs have stepped up the campaign for public-transit with Modern Transit Project. Transit proponents still have some work to do. The route recommendation that came out of the fixed guideway study is insufficient. The single meandering line proposed attempts to do too much, resulting in a system that: is overally costly, hinders future expansion, and fails to activate areas of potential. Regardless, there is still time to refine the plans. The first thing we need to do is ensure that transit is a meaningful part of MAPS 3, so people need to get behind the efforts of Jeff and Mark, and ask City Hall not to do a repeat performance of the original MAPS, delivering all that was promised except for public-transit.


I think it is time for city leaders to make some commitments on MAPS 3. So here are a few questions that I would like to see answered sooner, rather than later.

Convention Center
It is clear that a convention center is a major priority. I am not campaigning against it and I am really not against the idea; I have reservations about the process and location, but let’s save that for another post. Here are my questions for now:

– How much will be spent? (if you haven’t noticed the cost of a convention center has dropped $150 million over the last few weeks from $400mil down to $250milI guess we found a coupon)

– How much public money will be spent on the planned convention center hotel?

– How much of the $100 million planned for the MAPS 3 downtown park, will be used for the parking structure which will serve the needs of both the downtown park and convention center.

The River Plan

I think the river is a tremendous asset and excited to hear there are good ideas flowing, but it is time for all of this to be made public.

– What will it include?

– Why haven’t we seen or heard anything about it?

Public Transit

– If public-transit is really a major priority, as the Mayor earlier claimed it is, then doesn’t it deserve the effort and funding being put forth for other projects set to be included in MAPS 3?

Say what you want about the old Cox Convention Center, but its level of insufficiency pales in comparison to the sorry state of public-transit in Oklahoma City. If the request of city leaders is going to be granted in the form of a MAPS3 convention center, then the request of the people should be granted in the form of a MAPS3 public-transit system.

It is time for a commitment. It is time for a plan. It is time for public-transit in Oklahoma City. Anything short of a complete downtown streetcar network, is simply not good enough.

President Pushing For High Speed Rail Through OKC & Tulsa!

April 17th, 2009

The proposal would put Oklahoma City on a high-speed passenger rail line that would connect: San Antonio – Austin – Dallas – OKC – Tulsa. Please discuss. This is huge! Hard to even get my head around how big of an impact this would have on life along the I-35 corridor and throughout the United States.

And by the way, I like how they call the line “South Central.” I have always struggled to say where Oklahoma is…”it is erhh Southwest, but kind-of near the Midwest.” Anyway, south central works for me…of course, you should say “South Central United States” because “South Central America” is reserved for another place with a canal a little bit bigger then what we got in Bricktown, but I doubt it has as cool of website.

Speaking of Panama, here is a palindrome to enjoy on this beautiful Friday morning:

A-MAN-A-PLAN-A-CANAL-PANAMA on Sustainability in OKC

April 13th, 2009 recently ranked Oklahoma City 49th in sustainability among major U.S. Cities, but their message remains very positive.  It seems OKC is on the cusp of making significant progress in this area, with Mayor Cornett leading initiatives tackling obesity and the possibility for MAPS 3 public transportation investment.  Here is the breakdown:

By the way, Portland, OR topped the list at #1 and Mesa, AZ came in last at #50.  For the complete article on OKC click here or check out the complete rankings.

A Short Defense of New Urbanism

March 15th, 2009

Steve Lackmeyer has been blogging an ongoing series related to all things planning. Digging through topics like Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses, talking about William Whyte, and opening up a debate on New Urbanism. Yesterday he posted this video which led to an interesting discussion. I thought I would share the video with you and my comment where I attempt to defend some of the cliche criticisms of NU.  After that, head over to OKC Central to join in the discussion and see what else Steve has to say.

And if you didn’t catch my rant over the weekend, just remember, “a convention centers IS NOT about quality of life.”



The subsequent discussion about the video led to some rather harsh treatment of NU.  Here is my response:

If you confuse the New Urbanist principles of planning and urban design with the architectural aesthetic of many of the NU communities, it is easy knock them as contrived. In truth, New Urbanism is a complete framework of steadfast, proven, and effective planning principles that (in most places) can be utilized within the current regulatory and developmental contexts.

It can be applied at every scale, from downtown to the outer fringe, using the transect approach that Chad mentioned [above].

Most of the criticism comes from modernist architects that feel the framework limits their creative freedom. In truth, what New Urbanism tries to do is bring up the urban design caliber of the average building designed by the average architect. Most buildings are designed, not by Louis Kahn, but by people that try to be him without the same God given abilities and without the high profile projects. The lack of contemporary architectural solutions that offer pedestrian-scaled design detail is part of the reason developers have to rely on older styles.

The other branch of criticism comes from reactionaries that paint NU as an elitist group that only builds communities for rich people. In truth, the planning principles push for mixed-income communities; and the density and development mix should make housing more affordable in the long run (as soon as the regulatory framework makes things easier and the home builders adapt). That said, so far many of the communities have been so popular that housing prices have escalated, making many of them out of reach for the average home buyer.

[and this in response to the idea that NU is not “organic” enough]

Nothing is more utopian than the ideal of an “organic city.” The only thing that keeps the whole idea from crashing down is that the definition of what constitutes an “organic city” is never provided. Is Paris an “organic city”? No. Is Chicago an “organic city”? Certainly not.

I am sure when we are all dead and gone people will be criticizing some new development concept because it is not “organic” like Seaside and Kentlands.

Suburban Nation is an excellent read and nice overview for anyone interested in getting NU straight from the source.

Or for free you can check out the Smart Code to see New Urbanist planning principles in detail.